Typically, when we see an elite referee perform at their best we marvel in awe of the skills they display. When interviewed, these officials will refer to the much sought after mental state of ‘being in the zone’. Well, what does ‘being in the zone’ actually mean? Generally, people who are in the zone are not thinking about anything whilst performing and concentrating on a single cue (watching the ball etc…) and remain in the present. If you think about the reverse of the zone, when you are struggling for form what does that look like? Commonly, referees will have several thoughts flying around their head, cast judgements of themselves (e.g. I can’t get into the right positions to identify foul play) and forget to concentrate on what’s important (the ball & the players) and stay in the here and now. Ok, so you are probably wondering…. how can I get into the zone? Well as I have alluded to when someone is in the zone they are not thinking about anything. Or put simply they are ‘concentrating effortlessly’ and their brain is working in perfect symmetry with their body.
Lets’ break this down a bit further……
‘The Two Selves’
You can think of the brain being composed of two selves: Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 can be thought of as your egotistical mind, whereas Self 2 is your body (nerves, muscles, brain….). Let’s demonstrate what happens to Self 1 when refereeing. Recently, you’ve been having trouble identifying fouls in the penalty area. Your coaches have told you; you’ve got to change your patrol path, your sprints need to be quicker, look in the right areas for contact. All these cues filling your mind clutter your thoughts and after a while you start to doubt yourself and Aelf 1 (the egotistical mind) starts casting judgements e.g. ‘I’m so bad at officiating, I’ll never be able to climb the ladder’ or ‘come on you idiot watch the ball and blow the whistle. With these judgements cast, your muscles tense up, your skill execution worsens and you get angry. Ok, so you have seen the harm Self 1 can do. Let me demonstrate the power of Self 2 (the body).
Trusting The Body (Self 2) And Letting Go Of Judgement
At the time of reading this Blog your body is doing something amazing. Without thinking about it, your body is working in perfect unison your heart is beating, your eyelashes blink, your breathing, your eyes are moving following the words that are written and so on, all without thinking. Therefore, why should this be any different when we’re out in the middle? Why can’t we trust our bodies to execute the skill? Because Self 1, the ego, keeps casting judgements and preventing our body unlocking it’s full potential. Let me demonstrate an example when refereeing where we can learn by using images and learn to trust our body:
I was working with a client the other day who happened to be newly qualified and I advised he learnt through the use of images. From a very young age we learn through images. Our parents never coached us to walk, rather we watched our parents walk and then took our first steps that way. Therefore, back to the officiating example. Here we were on the second hole. My client had made 5 errors on key match incidents and could not maintain a good level of match control. His ego mind (Self 1) was making judgements ‘I am so bad at refereeing’. I took a water bottle and said ok, just imagine for a second that the bottle is a tackle and I brushed past it and told him that’s careless, then I softly kicked the bottle and told him that’s reckless. Finally, I kicked the bottle as hard as I could and explained that, that is excessive force. Once he rehearsed this picture I said ok now aim to execute that next time you’re out in the middle. Much to his surprise, his accuracy of decision making and match control dramatically increased once he introduced this concept into his refereeing. After the game I asked him ‘so what did you do differently out in the middle?’ He replied ‘Nothing, I was not thinking about it, I was just watching the speed of the challenges’. What happened is Self 1 the ego did not interfere (make judgement), there was channelled concentration and the body was trusted to execute the skill.
You are probably thinking that must be too good to be true right? Give it a go, let go of judgements when out in the middle. Use images to help you learn then simply trust your body; you might be surprised of the results!
At The Third Team I work individually and in collaboration with different professionals where I have developed workshops associated with Resilience and Mental Toughness Development to help referees. The workshops are interactive, where referees are encouraged to open up and share their experiences to help each other.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about my workshops and how I could help you or your officials.
Referee Educator & Managing Director of The Third Team
Nathan Sherratt, Referee Educator, Resilience Trainer and Managing Director of The Third Team. A Mental Toughness Practitioner based in County Durham, North East England.